[StBernard] Hospital commission draws controversy

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Jun 23 00:12:05 EDT 2008

Hospital commission draws controversy
Clinic physicians are on committee Saturday, June 21, 2008By Mary Elise
Amid controversy surrounding the makeup of the parish's hospital service
district commission, St. Bernard Parish Councilman Ray Lauga has introduced
a measure to remove the St. Bernard Health Center from the commission's
nominating committee.

The health center, currently the lone provider of emergency medical services
in St. Bernard Parish, operates from a trailer complex in the parking lot of
the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Chalmette. It is run by the Franciscan Mission
of Our Lady Health Systems in Baton Rouge.

Lauga said he thinks only local interests should have the power to nominate
commission members. "It only makes sense that the people nominating have an
interest and a stake in St. Bernard," Lauga told the Parish Council this

While the St. Bernard Hospital Service District is a state entity, the
commission was appointed last year by the Parish Council. The council named
the St. Bernard Medical Society and the St. Bernard Health Center as the two
nominating groups for commission members. Lauga wants to replace the health
center with the St. Bernard Parish Chamber of Commerce as the second
nominating body.

The move to alter the commission's makeup comes as the council grapples with
conflict-of-interest questions raised by the presence of Drs. Bryan Bertucci
and Paul Verrette on the commission. The council appointed the doctors, who
work at the St. Bernard Health Center, to the commission last year.

The Francisan Mission is one of two groups seeking the commission's approval
to operate a new public hospital proposed for Chalmette. Ochsner Health
System is the other.

St. Bernard Parish government has sought an Ethics Board opinion on Bertucci
and Verrette's service on the commission. Meanwhile, a bill that seeks to
allow Bertucci and Verrette to continue serving and to vote on a company to
operate the hospital, even though they work for one of the companies seeking
the job, is pending in the Legislature.

Councilman Kenny Henderson wondered if Lauga's proposal is legal, given that
the district was created through state law. Parish President Craig Taffaro
countered that the state Legislature created the rules governing how many
members could serve on the committee, but that local municipalities
determine membership.

"I didn't find any state requirement that a group from Baton Rouge had to be
on the nominating committee," Lauga said Thursday. "That would make no sense
to me, and I would want to know why."

. . . . . . .

Mary Elise DeCoursey can be reached at mdecoursey at timespicayune.com or (504)

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